Friday 23 February 2018

Funding drop means Fota must become People's Open

A view of the 6th fairway at Fota Island Golf Club
A view of the 6th fairway at Fota Island Golf Club

Karl MacGinty

JUST when they thought they were getting a little relief in their annual battle to balance the books at the Irish Open, the European Tour shipped a blow from long-standing partners Failte Ireland.

Tour officials were delighted when the new Chinese owners at the five-star Fota Island resort, which hosts next June's tournament, agreed to throw €250,000 into the kitty.

Fota, bought from NAMA by Beijing hoteliers, the Kang family, for a bargain €20m last August, is the first Irish Open venue in more than 10 years willing and able to pay a six-figure site fee to stage the event.

Yet delight at Tour HQ was soon tempered when Failte Ireland, the principal backer of the Irish Open in the absence of a main title sponsor, took this opportunity to trim their investment in the event from €1.25m last year to just €1m in 2014.

Like all other Government bodies, the tourism authority is under pressure to cut its budget.

In the continuing absence of a big-name backer to underwrite the €4m-plus cost of staging the event, the Tour once again must scramble hard to build a loyal coterie of secondary sponsors needed to help cover the €2m prize-fund.

And they'll once again require the Irish public to turn out in their tens of thousands at Fota if the Tour is to avoid a substantial loss on Ireland's national Open.

A tidy profit was turned when a record-breaking 131,000 spectators attended the 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush, but the break-even figure of 80,000 spectators was narrowly exceeded at Carton House last year and in Killarney in 2011, following the departure of '3' as sponsors.

With fears growing of waning Government interest in supporting this central plank of the Irish golf-tourism strategy, the tournament's future lies squarely in the hands of the public and the feats of the players they pay to see. It truly is the People's Open.

Irish Independent

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